Marlow Regatta

In Brief

Marlow is one of the premier events in the British Rowing calender, attracting competitors worldwide. It was first held in 1885, and is now an important social event, held on a Saturday in mid-June (23rd June in 2001). You can see further information about the Regatta on Marlow Regatta's own website. Marlow Regatta moved to Dorney Lake in Eton on 23 June 2001 and retained the title of Marlow Regatta. It could become a two-day international, standing shoulder to shoulder with the country's premier rowing events.

To compensate for the loss of a regatta actually held in Marlow, Marlow Town Regatta and Festival was held in Higginson Park for the first time on 16 June 2001. It was opened by Sir Steven Redgrave and as well as rowing events, it included dragon boat racing. A firework finale took place in the evening.

The Regatta's History

Marlow Regatta was undoubtedly the leading sporting fixture of the year in Marlow.

The Regatta is one of the premier events in the British rowing calendar and is held annually on a Saturday in mid-June. The date is always just two weeks before the famous Henley Royal Regatta and Marlow Regatta is regarded by many oarsmen as the dress rehearsal for Henley. There are events for various classes of eights, fours, pairs and scullers with the elite events attracting entries not only from among the best crews in this country but also from overseas clubs preparing for Henley.

Marlow is one of the few Thames regattas which retains the traditional festivities and garden party atmosphere. The town is bedecked with flags and bunting for the occasion, there is a large fun fair in the park adjoining the Regatta Enclosure and in the evening there is a magnificent firework display and a procession of illuminated boats on the river. Marlow Regatta is a splendid mid-summer day out for the whole family.

The early years of Marlow Regatta are not recorded and it is by no means certain when the first regatta was held. The earliest known date is 1855 and the regatta committee possesses a poster advertising a regatta in that year and a silver oar which was one of the presentation prizes.

In 1882 the Hillside crew from the USA competed in the Grand and this is the first recorded overseas entry. Unfortunately there was a dispute about their amateur status and they were not allowed to enter at Henley. All clubs boycotted them at Marlow except the local Marlow Rowing Club who were defeated easily.

During the first decade of this century the regatta became firmly established. In 1913 the Thames Amateur Rowing Council, who arrange Thames regatta dates, allocated the second Saturday in August, which had become Marlow's traditional date, to Staines regatta. This caused consternation in Marlow and after seriously considering a mid-week date it was decided to hold the regatta on Saturday June 21st, two weeks before Henley. This was a bold decision as at this time the regatta season opened with Henley and it was unheard of to hold a pre-Henley regatta. The decision proved to be very sound and from that day to this Marlow has been held two weeks before Henley.

There were no regattas in the War years of 1915 - 1918 and the 1919 event was the first post-war regatta on the Thames. It was styled the Victory Regatta and there were events for Allied Forces VIIIs, Allied Forces IVs and other special events. It was in this year that the present finishing line was established. Previously the finish had been just above the bridge but in order to eliminate the final bend, start and finish were both moved about 250 yards upstream.

In 1936 Tokyo Imperial University entered for the Grand and attracted a great crowd who they amazed by rowing over 60 strokes in the first minute and not dropping below 45 over the whole course. They won the event but when they tried to repeat their success at Henley the longer course was too much for them and they blew up.

There were, of course, no regattas from 1940-45 but 1946 saw a revival with double sculls being introduced for the first time. The event was won by a crew from Buenos Aires. Since then the regatta has steadily increased in popularity and is now not only a major rowing festival but also a great local social occasion.

The Regatta until 2000

The races are rowed either two or three crews abreast over a downstream course of 1600 metres (just under one mile) starting at Temple and finishing opposite the Regatta Enclosure in Higginson Park some 200 yards above Marlow suspension bridge. There are usually about one hundred races which are rowed at five minute intervals starting at about 10.00 in the morning and finishing around 7.30 in the evening with a break of about one hour for lunch. The exact timing is not known until after the entries close one week before the Regatta (in 1996 racing began at 8am and continued until 7pm).

There are two enclosures for spectators at the finish of the course from which there are fine views of the last half of the course and of the finish. Visitors may enter the Regatta Enclosure by buying a badge at the entrance. The facilities in the Regatta Enclosure include a small grandstand, plenty of riverside chairs, commentary on the races and a large licensed bar. The Marlow Town band plays in the Regatta Enclosure during the afternoon.

The separate Subscribers Enclosure is situated within the Regatta Enclosure and is reserved for Subscribers, their accompanied guests and sponsors. The Subscribers Enclosure has its own grandstand and bar. Anyone may become a Subscriber and for their subscription, which is payable before the regatta, they receive special Subscribers badges and also Guest badges, the number of which depends on the amount of their subscription. In 1996 two television screens were placed in the Subscribers tent so that the start of the race could be watched as well as the finish.

Spectators not wishing to enter the enclosures can watch the racing from anywhere else along the course without payment and there is a public footpath running alongside the river from the start to the enclosures. Spectators should however keep a sharp look out for crew coaches bicycling along this path who tend to have their eyes on their crew rather than on the path ahead of them!

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